How I Got Started

>> Monday, November 25, 2013

In the last post, I noted that short stories were a large portion of my writing history, how I got to where I am (though most of you probably don't really know where I am - I'm hoping to change that).

In reality, the short stories were phase 2 of my self-imposed writing tutelage. I have a huge backlog of poetry from high school and college, but I'm not sure I'll ever publish those. They're early and I was so very very young.

During the course of putting those short stories together, though, I remembered when I first started writing, or, perhaps more importantly, started keeping the writing I was doing rather than just writing it then tossing the poems and haiku I'd written to that point.

Although I've been writing since I was ten or eleven, most of the poetry (what I wrote first) I read over, thought, "Hey, not bad," and threw away. It wasn't until I wrote "A Cold Wind on the Hill" (at thirteen or thereabouts) and showed my father that the situation changed. Although not a fiction lover himself, my father made me promise never to throw any of my writing away again. Even the stuff I should have thrown away (which I didn't include in the book).

It is, at least in part, due to him that I began to document my imaginings and learned to appreciate sharing the stories with an audience. Perhaps because of that, I continued to pursue writing even after I became an engineer and a mother and had days packed with too many other things to do. I still had to tell stories, had to write, had to write down and save what I did write (even when it stunk).   

This was that poem.

                 A Cold Wind on the Hill

            One August morning as nighttime had paled,
            Fighting broke out as the peacetalkers failed
            And the War had begun that no one would win.
            Grieved for His children, He looked on His kin
            And sent down an angel to quiet the din.

            But no one would listen for he had no right
            To sue them for peace when they wanted to fight,
            Till, fin'ly, repuls├ęd, he fled in disgrace,
            Quite sick to the heart for the Master he'd face
            To tell of the end of the earth's human race.

            Yet, though it seemed futile, God, too, had to try
            To keep all those missiles from wounding the sky,
            But man just ignored Him and forced His retreat,
            Weeping with grief for His mankind's defeat,
            And for their blind bloodlust he couldn't unseat.

            So, man set his guns up, his missiles, his bombs
            And sent them all out on one hot August dawn.
            Then cities exploded in huge clouds of dust,
            While millions were killed in this "political must,"
            Whole nations reduced to just heat-blackened crust.

            Now, on a small hill does a lone Figure stand,
            With tears in His eyes and blood on His hands.
            The land all is barren; the grey air is still,
            Which tortures that gentle Soul there on the hill,
            As, for once in His life, God, Himself, feels a chill.

Thanks, Dad. I love you, though you're gone now.

But I didn't yet appreciate that I wanted to write or what I wanted to write. It was later in high school that I realized, what I wanted to do was not just write, but to write fiction, write stories, created entirely from my own mind, rather than just report on what had already happened, or writing about "stuff." I remember fondly when I first realized that what I wanted to do—what I would always want to do—was tell stories. I had an assignment in high school to write an essay about an ordinary object one could find at home. But I couldn't just describe something; I had to tell a story. Even my poetry tended toward long and epic stories. 

The "bones" of that "essay" became my first short story: Charley (and I also wrote a poem version of this). Though prose, it was only a short step from the poetry I'd written up to that point, the use of the sound of language, the emotional manipulation. Of everything I've written, it is still my eldest daughter's favorite.

I love you, Stephanie (yes, that's my eldest daughter's name).

Charley is the story that will kick off my anthology, Creating Dreams.

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History => Future

>> Saturday, November 23, 2013

So, I came up with a self-publishing plan, taking wisdom from the suggestions from the Smash Words site founder (and my friend, Darrell Nelson, who pointed me to Smash Words and gave me other advice) and taking advantage my own considerable backlog of written work. Several books on how-to write/market ebooks on Smash Words are available for free and are recommended (by me): Smash Words Style Guide, Smash Words Book Marketing Guide, and The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success. Now this seems all Smash Words heavy (and it is, because that's the direction I chose to go, but I really appreciated the philosophy I saw and heard, so I was sold), but, by all means, do your own research and decide for yourself if you're interested. This is what I found that seemed most useful.

Among the many things I learned:

  1. Keep expectations low and be prepared for the long haul. Long term practices can be more effective for e-books than are allowed for print books, since they don't turn into pumpkins after X amount of time. 
  2. Multiple books out at once is useful since people who like one book will likely look for more under the same "brand" - your name. That's cool, too. I have several books I feel are publishable now. 
  3. Longer works do better (unless they're bloated and clumsy - see below). Woot! My books mostly clock in at close to 100K or longer. 
  4. Free books or books free for a period of time can rapidly expand readership. Free books get downloaded the most. 
  5. Smash Words publishes ebooks in formats that are copy-protection free, noting that freaking out over thievery/piracy is counterproductive. I totally agree. Will probably write a whole post on my view on this at a later date.
 Things noted that I already knew.
  1. The essential element for any chance of success is a good book. Write a crappy book and the optimum price, formatting, marketing, etc won't make it popular. People don't want to pay for something unless they feel they get something in return. Even with free books, hey, a reader's time has value, too. If your book is garbage, self-publishing won't change that. I love that Smash Words put this obvious (but frequently ignored) wisdom front and center. 
  2. Don't plan to get rich (which is fine -  have a good day job), but this can give you an opportunity to share your vision, your reading, your stories with others - which is all I ever wanted.
So, I changed my original game plan.

Rather than pop out with my Bete novel series (what I consider my most "marketable" work), I want to build readership and, with luck and hopefully my actual work, build a readership and learn from them. So, to start and to put a free book out there for people to "check me out", I thought I'd put together a book of my short stories.

I loved my short stories and they were a huge part of my learning to write, teaching myself skills I use in my novels today. Marketing them, however, is more than I was willing to take time for. Putting them in a book not only gives me something to allow people to see my style and writing (in relatively small doses), but allows these pieces to be shared. And I can also show how my writing has grown and matured over time (though that didn't cross my mind until I started putting it together).

I'm actually pretty stoked. Clock is ticking it down; hopefully, I'll have one or two books available publicly by the end of the calendar year. I'm just waiting to see if I can get some decent covers.

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And I'm back in the game...

>> Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thought I'd died, hadn't you? Well, I was wondering if I was going to do any more writing myself, but I'm finding a new plan, a way to reinvigorate my creativity and put my stories back out into the world. More on that later, as well as my insight into the art of writing.

But, in the meantime, I have an announcement:

As I might have mentioned once or twice before, I write fiction (yes, I'm back to present tense) and last year I had a story included in SQ e-zine.  This year, they're publishing that story among their bests and it's available for purchase in both print and ebook (my story and eighteen others) in a book called Star Quake 1. I don't know everywhere it's available, but I know it's available at both Barnes & Noble and at Amazon.

It's not a big thing, as real writing goes, but it's big for me.

More news, I'm gearing up to take my rather large backlog of novels and short stories and self-publish in ebook form (some of many different flavors of electronic book at once). Not because I don't believe in it, but because I do. I don't want to get rich. I want to tell stories. I want people to have the opportunity to actually read them.

One way or another, that's just what I'm going to do.

Stay tuned.


I will be back with writing related stuff. Time to dust off my brain and creativity and get to blogging with a purpose again.

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No, I'm not dead. Really...

>> Friday, April 5, 2013

I even have writing related news, though I haven't really written anything in two years. Which is probably a bad thing.

But a short story I got published in a eZine has been selected for that same organization's printed anthology, so there you go. The short story is "Masks" which I mentioned here before. And I found out in the wee hours this morning when I inexplicably got up at 3:30 am and checked my mail.

Congratulations!

You have been chosen to be published in SQ Mag's 2012 Anthology.

From the numerous amazing stories we received last year, yours were outstanding and we decided they needed to be published.

More details will be forthcoming, but in order to make sure all of our information is up to date, can I ask you to send your most recent bio (please let me know if you are happy with what is already on SQ Mag - www.sqmag.com)?

Thank you again for choosing to send your story to us.

Kind regards

Sophie Yorkston
Editor, SQ Mag
Cool, eh? When I wrote this bio, I was still married. I like the humor in it but I should probably update it:

Stephanie Barr has spent the past 22 years working in the space industry as a rocket scientist, raising three demon children and trying to save the world by keeping her husband, a dragon, in check. Sometimes, she finds time to write.
 Any ideas how I can update this without the dragon but still with humor? Feel free to leave me a comment.

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